The Gulf Western Oil Winternationals lived up to its reputation for high stakes championship drama on Saturday with a single qualifying session for the professional categories deciding who would compete on race day and several categories having their championships decided.
All of the professional fields only seed eight cars for eliminations. With most oversubscribed, competition was intense to see who would earn a spot for Sunday's racing.
Western Australia's Damien Harris unleashed arguably the run of the day, with a 3.778 from the Rapisarda Autosport International driver qualifying number one in Top Fuel. The pass was only one thousandth of a second off the quickest Top Fuel run ever in Australia, a mark Harris set himself at last year's Gulf Western Oil Winternationals.
“It was good to come back after the weather and run that number off the trailer, “ he said following the run. “Let's hope we (the team) can work towards getting Wayne (Newby) the championship.”
The seeding for Top Fuel has delivered a nearly perfect scenario for championship anoraks. Sydney's Newby leads the points chase, but is on the opposite side of the ladder to his primary rival Kelly Bettes, meaning the pair could meet in the final to decide the title. But dark horse Ashley Sanford, who sits third in the series, could also take the championship if Newby goes out in the first round and Queensland's Bettes goes out in the semi finals – with the Californian Sanford possibility meeting reigning champion Bettes in that round of the bracket.
Sanford's run was the only other 'full pull' of the session, though she got close to the centre line towards the 1000 feet beams. Bettes looked good early but got out of the groove and spun the tyres, while Peter Xiberras endured some serious tyre shake. Terry Sainty was shut off on the start line with a leaking fuel fitting.
TOP FUEL QUALIFYING ORDER (unofficial)
1 DAMIEN HARRIS 3.778/321.96mph
2 ASHLEY SANFORD 3.852/308.50mph
3 KELLY BETTES 4.910/139.86mph
4 PHIL READ 8.559/80.69mph
5 WAYNE NEWBY 8.745/93.46mph
6 PETER XIBERRAS 8.889/73.75mph
7 TERRY SAINTY NTR/NSR
Pro Slammer saw a wild qualifying session as racers tried to navigate their 3000 horsepower machines down track for a single shot at making the field. Queensland's Steven Ham found his way with a 5.701 run taking top position, followed by privateer Geoff Gradden's personal best 5.77.
Facing a cool track and one chance to get it right, Ham said the team had his Camaro set up to make it A to B.
“It was a little loose out there so we just needed to ease it down the track,” he said. “It was a little bit sketchy at the top end (of the run) and I had the parachutes out early.”
Also impressing were Geoff Gradden and Scott MacLean. They were the first pair out for the session and set expectations high with a 5.77 and a 5.78 respectively. Paul Mouhayet slowed after backfiring shortly before the finish line as championship rival John Zappia spun the tyres almost at the hit and had to recover quickly to ensure he made the field. Mark Hinchelwood went for a wild ride, going on two wheels over the centre line shortly after launching.
By our calculations, the Pro Slammer championship looks to have been decided earlier than expected, with Mouhayet's fourth qualifying position giving him enough points to keep Zappia at bay on race day. Mouhayet's lead is now 71 points while the maximum Zappia can take over him on race day would be 70 points.
PRO SLAMMER QUALIFYING ORDER (unofficial)
1 STEVEN HAM 5.701/251.63mph
2 GEOFF GRADDEN 5.770/248.48mph
3 SCOTT MACLEAN 5.780/242.02mph
4 PAUL MOUHAYET 5.801/230.92mph
5 MARTY DACK 6.218/239.44mph
6 JOHN ZAPPIA 6.260/250.18mph
7 BEN BRAY 6.391/225.41mph
8 PAUL CANNULI 6.395/210.37mph
9 TREVOR SMITH 6.499/202.52mph
10 MARK HINCHELWOOD NTR/NSR
Pro Alcohol veteran Gary Phillips used his experience to come out on top of the category, a 5.408 second time almost a half a second ahead of the rest of the field, who struggled to find the right set up. With championship rival Steve Reed missing the field, Phillips was able to add yet another 400 Thunder Championship to his mantelpiece.
Queenslander Phillips said the team had to search longer than usual to find a tune that would match the conditions faced by teams at Willowbank Raceway yesterday, but it paid off in the end.
“The main thing was to get that first run in,” he said. “The car was getting on down there and I short shifted, but we are happy. We didn't leave too much on the table for that one.”
Justin Walshe's 5.860 in his altered might have been much quicker, if the car hadn't backfired just after half track. In fact, Walshe was only seven hundredths slower than Phillips to half track, with all signs pointing to a 5.5 second run - which would have beaten Mark Sheehan's long standing 5.649 mark for the quickest altered in Australia. Chris Hargrave also had engine problems and will have his spare motor in for race day. The field was bumped by Victorian Cameron Ambesi.
PRO ALCOHOL QUALIFYING ORDER (unofficial)
1 GARY PHILLIPS 5.408/261.72mph
2 JUSTIN WALSHE 5.860/177.74mph
3 BRETT WHITE 5.982/250.37mph
4 CHRIS HARGRAVE 6.035/164.13mph
5 GREG CLAYTON 6.051/213.47mph
6 JON STING 6.060/199.52mph
7 ROBERT AMBRUOSI 6.204/223.47mph
8 CAMERON AMBESI 6.534/189.31mph
9 JAKE DONNELLY 7.801/119.42mph
10 WAYNE PRICE 9.881/78.32mph
11 LUKE MARSDEN 10.832/76.72mph
12 JOHN CANNULLI 12.190/38.54mph
13 STEVE REED 17.012/41.34mph
14 WAYNE TALBOT NTR/NSR
Top Bike's only qualifying session proved a difficult affair with no rider making it down track cleanly. Queensland's Chris Matheson leads the field with a 7.494 second pass, way off the true potential of his motorcycle.
“We were too greedy,” he admitted afterwards. “We're just going to have to soften him up.”
Jay Upton managed just an 8.952 after spinning the tyre, while the bracket's only other pair - Gavin Spann and Les Holden - had a timing issue which resulted in no time for either rider.
The 400 Thunder Pro Stock Championship was decided when Victoria's Chris Soldatos failed to qualify into the field, as championship rival Aaron Tremayne top qualified with a 6.985 pass. The title marks the eighth time the Queenslander has won a national championship in Pro Stock.
Pro Stock saw the most full runs of any pro bracket and ended up with a relatively tight field, with the top three separated by just three thousandths of a second. From what we understand, Bill Perdikaris may be withdrawing ahead of today's eliminations, which would bring Robert Dekert into the field.
PRO STOCK QUALIFYING ORDER (unofficial)
1 AARON TREMAYNE 6.985/197.28mph
2 JODI RACCO 6.988/195.62mph
3 TYRONNE TREMAYNE 6.988/197.02mph
4 JOHN BARBAGALLO 7.002/194.24mph
5 BRIAN PURSELL 7.021/195.73mph
6 RICK CHILTON 7.098/191.54mph
7 BILL PERDIKARIS 7.098/192.3mph
8 NINO CAVALLO 7.132/190.16mph
9 ROBERT DEKERT 7.157/191.02mph
10 WAYNE DALEY 12.462/69.72mph
11 JASON HEDGES 19.494/NSR
12 PAUL BEAUCHAMP 21.250/36.93mph
13 BRUCE LEAKE 21.753/36.45mph
14 CHRIS SOLDATOS 24.464/NSR
15 SCOTT PORTER 40.687/48.37mph
Hopes were high for another six second run in Pro Bike, with Queenslander Luke Crowley's 7.100 clocking the closest after qualifying. While much attention has been on performance in the class, the championship scenario became radically more interesting after qualifying as Victoria's Glenn Wooster missed the field, which opens up the door for Western Australia's Ryan Learmonth. If Learmonth wins his semi final, he will win the 400 Thunder championship.
PRO BIKE QUALIFYING ORDER (unofficial)
1 LUKE CROWLEY 7.100/192.60mph
2 SCOTT WHITE 7.320/177.70mph
3 MAURICE ALLEN 7.339/180.77mph
4 KATIE SULLIVAN 7.364/177.49mph
5 SCOTT WHITE 7.472/175.71mph
6 RYAN LEARMONTH 7.556/184.12mph
7 LOCKY IRELAND 7.999/170.77mph
8 DANIEL RABNOTT 8.396/171.9mph
9 GLENN WOOSTER 9.04/126.91mph
Eliminations got underway for the 400 Thunder sportsman categories, however most brackets only completed one round before the rain begin to fall. Clear conditions are expected for Sunday fortunately, where final eliminations will take place for both the 400 Thunder pro and sportsman classes. Sportsman racing begins from 8am, with the first round of Top Fuel opening pro eliminations at 11am.
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